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White Lens on Brown Skin: The Sexualization of the Polynesian in American Film

From even the earliest accounts of contact between Polynesians and Europeans, it is evident that Westerners have perceived the peoples of Polynesia as supposedly sensual and sexual beings. By the late 1800s, early publications, lectures and stage plays about the Pacific became widely popular across Europe, and often contained exotic and erotic components. This book details the fusion of truth and fiction in the representation of Pacific Islanders, focusing on the sexualization of Polynesians in American cinema and other forms of mass communications and commercial entertainment.

With messaging almost subliminal to the general American audience, the Hollywood media machine produced hundreds of tropical film titles commonly promoted alongside images of revealing grass skirts, scanty sarongs, female toplessness and glistening exposed male pectorals. This critical filmography demonstrates how the concept of “sex sells,” especially when applied to a large and lasting scale, shaped American social views on Polynesian people and their culture. Chapters expose and document this hypocritical social phenomenon in an attempt to create awareness and change. Several valuable appendices conclude the book, including a glossary of Polynesian terms, a film index and an annotated filmography of sexualized tropes.

Matthew B. Locey


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